If you want to truly understand the kind side of jazz—the side that reveres other artists, wants everyone to love the music and views improvisation as way to bring people together—you need to dig the music of Dave Lambert. Before World War II, Louis Armstrong was the chief bridge between jazz and everyday life, largely because he stood for happiness and togetherness as well as magnificent artistry. After the war, Lambert took on that role, becoming something of a Johnny Appleseed, using his vocal gifts and gentle soul to make jazz irresistible. Of course, Armstrong didn't stop being the voice and face of jazz after the war, but Lambert did represent a new optimism and a new generation—one more in tune with the mischief, whimsy and daring of bebop.
Most people know Lambert as a co-founder of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross—a vocalese group founded in 1957 that charmed audiences with its sophisticated and upbeat sound. But by '57, Lambert had already made his mark in jazz, influencing a new wave of hip vocalists including Babs Gonzales, Eddie Jefferson, King Pleasure, Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross. Vocally, Lambert was the first to do for bebop what Armstrong had done for swing, with a style of scatting that was cool, confident and clever. He also was a superb writer of songs—in many cases the words and music—and often adding lyrics to famed instrumental solos. And he never had to blow his cool horn. Lambert was naturally chilled and with-it.
Lambert was born in Boston in 1917 and began singing with Johnny Long's Orchestra in the early 1940s. He joined Gene Krupa's Orchestra in 1944 as a member of the G-Noters, which featured Lambert, Lillian Lane, Buddy Stewart and Jerry Duane. His first hit with Krupa was What's This?
with Buddy Stewart, recorded in January 1945. Their scatting captured the essence of early bop, thanks to their close association with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and other burgeoning beboppers on New York's 52nd St.
In 1946, Lambert recorded with Buddy Stewart backed by Red Rodney's Beboppers, arranged by Neal Hefti. In the late 1940s, Lambert was so hip that he often performed and recorded with top boppers like Benny Green, Al Haig, Allen Eager and Kai Winding. He also accompanied Charlie Parker in 1949 at a WMCA broadcast from New York's Royal Roost, and Lambert and Stewart along with Trudy Richards were the voices on Charlie Barnet's novelty number, Be-bop Spoken Here
. Lambert arranged, for better or worse, the Dave Lambert Singers behind Charlie Parker on the ill-conceived Charlie Parker and Voices" session in May 1953. His singers were being King Pleasure in September of that year.
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross recorded about a dozen albums, and Sing a Song of Basie
, produced by Creed Taylor, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. When Ross dropped out of the group in 1962, Lambert and Hendricks added Yolande Bavan and recorded several albums.
When the trio split up in 1964, Lambert assembled a new group of singers and was captured at RCA's 24th St. studio with George Avakian in tow by D.A. Pennebaker for his 15-minute film Audition at RCA
. A half dozen songs were recorded but the project was never green-lighted by the label.
Lambert died tragically on a night in October 1966 at age 49 when he was hit on the Connecticut Turnpike after stepping into the roadway while trying to fix a car.
A few weeks ago, I asked Dee Lambert, Dave's daughter, to provide me with a list of songs that her dad had recorded or written. Dee is as kind as her dad and sent along a listing. I added a few clips as well...Here's
Lambert and Krupa's G-Noters singing I Should Care
in January 1945... Here's
Lambert and Stewart singing Lambert's What's This?
with Krupa, also in January 1945... Here's
Lambert and Stewart with Red Rodney's Beboppers in 1946 singing Lambert's Gussie G
and featuring Rodney (tp), Al Haig (p), Curly Russell (b) and Stan Levey (d), with the arrangement by Neal Hefti... Here's
Lambert's Charge Account,
which was built on the All the Things You Are
chord changes, featuring the same group... Here's
recorded in late 1948 with ensembles led by Al Haig... Here
are the Dave Lambert Singers in January 1949 singing Hawaiian War Chant
, with Al Haig (p), Curly Russell (b), Max Roach (d), Diego Ibarra (bgo) and Vidal Bolado (cga)... Here's
Lambert and Stewart with Charlie Parker at the Royal Roost in February 1949 singing Deedle
(also known as Static
are the Dave Lambert Singers with Jo Stafford in April 1949 at the height of bebop's craze, showing off Stafford's flawless bop chops... Here's
Lambert, Stewart and Richards with Charlie Barnet singing Be-bop Spoken Here
in April 1949... Here
are the Dave Lambert Singers with Charlie Parker in 1953 on In the Still of the Night
the Dave Lambert Singers backing King Pleasure in 1953 on Sometimes I'm Happy
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross singing Everyday I Have the Blues
from Sing a Song of Basie
a video of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross singing Everyday I Have the Blues
in 1959 with Joe Williams, who made the song famous with Count Basie. I warn you, this is one of the most exceptional recordings of this group and highly addictive...
In 1960, if you wanted to sing along with Lambert and Hendricks, you could! Go here
(it's also available at eBay).Here's
Lambert Hendricks & Ross singing Lambert's Halloween Spooks
from The Hottest New Group in Jazz
(1962), featuring brilliant scary scat... Here's
Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan at Basin Street East in 1962 singing Shiny Stockings
(with Bavan's terrific high notes)...
D.A. Pennebaker's Audition at RCA
, filmed in 1964 and perhaps the finest Dave Lambert document...